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Panel discusses Iran nuclear agreement

| Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Kroc Institute sponsored a panel discussion Monday on the recent nuclear deal with Iran at the Hesburgh Institute for International Studies. The event, titled “The Iran Nuclear Agreement: Is it a Good Deal?” featured political science professor Michael Desch, law school professor Mary Ellen O’Connell and adjunct professor Major General Robert Latiff.

Moderator David Cortright, director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute, began by defining the objective of the talk, which was to evaluate the effectiveness of the recent agreement negotiated between the Islamic Republic of Iran, the United States and several other countries in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. 

The first panelist, Desch, outlined the military and political situation before the negotiations began and described the most important terms of the agreement.

Desch said prior to the nuclear talks, the United States possessed 7,100 warheads, while Israel had somewhere between 80 and 200, and Iran controlled none. Additionally, he said that there was a wide discrepancy between the nuclear capable delivery systems, which include intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as naval and air resources, of the three countries: The United States has 886, Israel has 300, and Iran between 100 and 300.

“If you want a nuclear weapon, there are two ways to get it, actually three ways to get — you can buy one from somebody, but I don’t believe that’s ever happened in the history of the nuclear era,” Desch said.

These two methods, according to Desch, are either enrichment of uranium through centrifuges or plutonium production from a heavy water reactor.

Desch said the deal seems to have achieved the objectives desired by President Obama and his administration and advances United States national security interests.

“It’s not perfect, but on the other hand, it’s as good as it gets,” Desch said.

O’Connell spoke next, examining the deal in the context of international law and the possible alternative options at the United States’ disposal.

“We’ve heard about two options that are allegedly available as alternatives to this very complex agreement, and one option is [to] continue with the sanctions, and the other option is [to] attack and eliminate Iran’s nuclear program with military force,” O’Connell said.

The sanctions route is infeasible, O’Connell said, because the United Nations has already lifted the most effective ones, and any new unilateral sanctions the United States imposes in the future will be extremely weak in comparison. The agreement contains provisions for sanctions that will immediately snap back into place if Iran violated certain terms and requirements.

The use of force to destroy the Iranian nuclear program is both morally questionable and practically very unlikely to succeed, O’Connell said.

It is a violation of international law to use military force, except in cases of self-defense, she said, and any military action in self-defense must follow the principles of necessity, meaning every other option has been exhausted, and proportionality, meaning the act of self-defense does not inflict significantly greater harm than the original offense.

According to O’Connell, the number of nuclear sites and their high levels of protection mean actions like bombing raids will prove ineffective and could produce civilian casualties in the millions.

O’Connell said if the U.S. breaks the nuclear agreement through either unilateral sanctions or military force, Iran can easily stop following the terms of the deal.

“Every obligation Iran has respecting nuclear weapons is derived from the binding nature of international law, so to treat these rules as not binding in a case which the U.S. believes is exceptional or outside the rules, makes a nonsense out of the very obligations that we are holding Iran to,” O’Connell said.

Latiff spoke last, discussing myths surrounding the deal and counterarguments to refute them. According to Latiff, inflammatory rhetoric and ignorance about the actual details of the agreement has overshadowed much of the public discussion on the deal.

Some of the opponents of the deal have valid claims that Iran does sponsor terrorism and is an outspoken enemy of the United States, he said, but the U.S. must still negotiate with countries it finds contemptible or even evil if it wants to achieve anything peacefully.

“Some of the money may be used to fund terror, but this is no reason to go war,” Latiff said.

Latiff said a major misconception surrounding the agreement is that it limits the United States’ ability to attack Iran.

“This deal gives us a better opportunity and more information should we decide to go to war, which I hope we don’t,” Latiff said.

Another criticism of the agreement, Latiff said, holds the fact that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors must request inspections in advance before they examine nuclear sites allows Iran to cheat on its obligations. However, Latiff said this was a necessary concession.

“Would we allow foreign inspectors unfettered access to our nuclear facilities? No,” Latiff said.

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